The Big Ten turned in one if its better non-conference weekends, finishing with a 3-2-1 record. The Gophers fell to Merrimack but defeated RIT, Ohio State beat and tied Mercyhurst, and the Badgers split their weekend against Michigan Tech.
The Buckeyes put up eight goals in the Snowtown Throwdown, with Matt Johnson’s hat trick leading Ohio State’s six-goal effort on Friday. Ohio State is one of six programs that have had two different players record a hat trick this season.
With a 2-0 win over Michigan Tech on Saturday, the Badgers became the last team to reach the two-win mark this season. Joel Rumpel made a career-high 47 saves in the shutout, one night after the Badgers lost 8-1 to the Huskies. I use “upset” minimally, but Wisconsin’s win was an upset and an anomaly. The Badgers are still in a bad state, but the rest of the conference – especially Michigan – should thank Wisconsin for getting a huge out-of-conference win.
Speaking of Michigan, the Wolverines are now 21st in the PairWise, and Penn State has dropped to 22. After falling to Merrimack, the Gophers dropped to 10. There are still some non-conference games left, but it might be too late for the Wolverines or Nittany Lions to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
(After the jump: Time to panic in Minnesota, the good and bad from USA’s WJC, and don’t put all the blame on Mike Eaves.)
Maybe it’s time to panic in Minnesota
The Gophers are currently on the inside of the PairWise bubble, but they might be in trouble.
Minnesota failed to win its Mariucci Classic, after losing to the Warriors in the first round. To be fair, the Gophers didn’t play terribly (and without Hudson Fasching and Ryan Collins), and Rasmus Tirronen made some incredible saves.
But in their last eight games, the Gophers are 3-4-1, and they’ve struggled for the past few weeks. While injuries and absences have played a part, there’s something else missing. The Gophers sit 10th in the PairWise, and if they fail to win the Big Ten tournament, earning an at-large bid might be slim. Non-conference games are getting slimmer, and losing one of them last weekend didn’t help (all of Minnesota’s five losses came in out-of-conference play).
The good and bad from USA’s World Juniors
Six Big Ten players returned home from the WJC without medaling. Hudson Fasching and Ryan Collins were back in the lineup for Minnesota on Friday night, as the Gophers lost 3-2 to Merrimack. Michigan’s Dylan Larkin, Tyler Motte, Zach Werenski and J.T. Compher got some rest after returning, as the Wolverines were off.
With such a talented roster that included Sonny Milano, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and more, leaving without a medal is a disappointing result. The U.S. took too many penalties against Russia, and didn’t have enough players step up in the that game.
Dylan Larkin and Hudson Fasching, along with Denver’s Will Butcher, were named USA’s best players of the tournament.
And it was well deserved.
Fasching, Larkin and Milano made up the team’s best line, and Larkin had a monster tournament. He finished with seven points (five goals, two assists) leading the team in both categories. He had a plus-seven rating, tied with Hudson Fasching for the best rating on the team.
Don’t only blame Mike Eaves, yet
The only reason Wisconsin (which recorded an awful 5-on-5 Corsi in both games) won on Saturday, is because Joel Rumpel turned in one of the best performances of this career, netting a career-high 47 saves. With the shutout, Rumpel is second on the Badgers All-Time shutout list.
Yes, this is an awful season for Wisconsin. It’s beyond embarrassing for one of the Division I hockey power houses, from players leaving the program to the team’s abysmal 2-11-1 record. All of this is happening one season after winning the inaugural Big Ten tournament.
Yes, the Badgers are a young team. Yes, they lost a lot of scoring after last season. Yes, the imbalance in recruiting classes – and having 11 freshmen in the lineup – is Eaves’ fault.
But a big reason for Wisconsin’s struggles is Joel Rumpel’s inconsistent play isn’t Eaves’ fault.
I didn’t see much of Wisconsin’s win against Michigan Tech, but from the last period I caught, Rumpel looked a lot like his last-season self. I felt last season’s Joel Rumpel was one of the best in the Big Ten (I actually gave him GOTY last season).
Eaves knew his team would be young and inexperienced. He knew he needed a solid netminder to help the Badgers find their identity (the same way Minnesota rode Adam Wilcox to the NCAA championship game last season). But Rumpel has been extremely inconsistent this season, and was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots on Friday.
Eaves is at fault to an extent, but don’t forget this Rumpel isn’t like last season’s Rumpel. And that’s hurt Wisconsin.